Barb Wire (#1 – 8) – John Arcudi

1 out of 5

Yeesh. What starts out as a kinda/sorta acceptable ‘human bounty hunter mixes it up with super-powered creeps’ riff – because that is a riff – almost immediately shows disinterest in its own premise, and then its own characters, and then… it’s canceled. Go figure.

One of the entries in Dark Horse’s short-lived attempt at shared-universe super heroes – “Comics Greatest World” – Barb Wire, created by Chris Warner, was a nickname for bounty hunter Barbara: wearer of pink leather pants, a bikini top, and reflective glasses. Is the need for this outfit ever discussed beyond intimating that tuff females whose catchphrases are things like ‘don’t call me babe’ must also dress rather ridiculously? Not in the pages of Barb Wire it ain’t, and while a larger conversation about gaze and whether or not manner of dress can be critiqued as appropriate could ensue, I’d think we could, at the very least, agree that Barb’s outfit was rather impractical for her profession. Nevertheless, it’s the 90s, it’s comics, it’s what happened. And after an underwhelming first issue’s introduction, writer John Arcudi justifies Barb agreeing to take on bigger fish – initially swearing off super-powered prey – as a means of paying for ongoing renovations to her bar. This is an okay setup, but, indicating the general pattern for these 8 issues (of 9; Arcudi didn’t script the final one, indicative in itself that a writer jumps on the penultimate issue…), it’s sidetracked almost immediately by a confused (sub?)plot of another costume-clad character hunting for the same Skip contract Barb’s undertakes, and I literally read these issues this morning and I cannot recall how this was resolved because my guess is: not at all.

For an issue later, we’re doing setup for another CGW character (bear in mind issue one spent time shooing character Motorhead – a possessed bouncer – off to his own storyline, presumably resolved elsewhere): Avram, cyborg-man The Machine, who’s given a short two-part tale with very little for Barb to do. Which is probably why she quits bounty hunting a book later.

Yes: before you’ve done any work to really build up your lead, or the stakes around her, you have her go quitsies on the main premise of the book.

A character who was pissed off by events in issue one then incites havoc across the city (apparently; we’re shown glimpses of this but it feels far away, like the writer really wasn’t _too_ concerned about it…), building up to some type of showdown in the concluding issue that I will never read.

Arcudi delivers competent dialogue, for the most part, but his plotting, as indicated above, is confused as heck, as though he really had no desire to work on the book as handed to him. Barb the character is sinfully _empty_, and nothing of consequence that sticks around for longer than an issue happens. Don Lawlis and inker Ian Ankin, with colorist Pamela Rambo, handling most of the art duties (by a slim margin, I guess – 5 out of the 8 issues I read) also give us bright pages, and some cool Avram vs. machines fights, but the whole Comics Greatest World universe feels ill-defined, and Barb’s ‘any random building on any random street’ setting of Steel Harbor reflects that. The book’s editor has very little to say in response to letters, only welling up some emotion to make it clear to a writer that she’s not a man. The series has…not a lot going for it. And it was said to be ‘retooled’ after a ‘hiatus,’ but it disappeared until someone somehow pitched it as a movie, prompting a sudden new mini-series and a horrid trade collection of random issues.

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